Knobcone Pines on Bear Mountain Meadows

Bear Mountain Meadows seen in the distance from near Hills Peak. We got as far as the one in the center of the photo.

A couple of weeks ago (see Uncommon Plants in Southeastern Lane County), snow kept me from checking out the series of large meadows on the lower slopes of Bear Mountain (the peak in extreme southeastern Lane County—apparently there are seven in Oregon, two others just in Lane County! As Sabine often points out, people aren’t very creative naming geographic features.) Despite the ominous date—Friday the 13th—this time we were very lucky finding a way up to this intriguing area. It turns out that Molly Juillerat, the Middle Fork district botanist, was also hoping to see this area, as it was on a list of meadows to survey for possible restoration. She and Sabine and I were joined by another intrepid botanical explorer, John Koenig.

A dwarfed white pine (Pinus monticola) clinging to the rocks in the upper meadow.

Along the way, we stopped along Road 21 to see some other interesting spots. On the cliffs along Hills Creek Reservoir, we were pleased to see numerous purple flowers of Orobanche uniflora peeking out from the Sedum spathulifolium they parasitize. Unfortunately, that wasn’t all we spotted. After I looked down at my pants and saw a small tick, I let out some unrepeatable words. This prompted everyone to look down to see they all had ticks crawling up their pants. Alas, we picked up many more as the day went on. Molly seemed to be their favored target—a real tick magnet, according to Sabine. Actually, hiking with people who attract ticks and mosquitoes is a real advantage for me, as I seem much less interesting to them when tastier folks are around. We also stopped at the Rosa spithamea location I found last time. We spent some time looking at vegetative differences between that and the far more common Rosa gymnocarpa. You learn a lot trying to ID plants without the benefit of flowers. I was wrong about the large hollow stalks I thought might be milkweed. New shoots were just emerging and proved to be California tea (Rupertia physodes)—learn something new every day. At the chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata) spot, Molly pointed out some grapefern (Botrychium multifidum) she found there, and I discovered there was quite a bit of yet another uncommon plant, Heuchera chlorantha—all this right by a paved road!

Greenleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula)

After a pleasant picnic lunch at Indigo Springs Campground, we headed up Pioneer Gulch Road 2149. The side road the map showed as reaching the closest to the base of this meadow complex turned out to be only a track in the woods. But other then some ducking under branches, it was easy to follow it the quarter of a mile until it branched. Not sure which direction to take, we quickly realized we could actually see some of the opening through the trees already and headed straight in. I had no idea it would be this easy to find. What a relief I wasn’t dragging other people on a wild goose chase!

The meadows seem to be a major destination for elk, who had made good paths for us to follow from one section to another. Molly also thought all these meadows had once been grazed by sheep. Certainly, there were many weeds. It is still quite early here, so there will no doubt be much more than we saw or were able to identify. One of the highlights was the blooming manzanitas, both Arctostaphylos canescens and much pinker-flowered A. patula. This and the pretty Ribes roezlii were about the only nectar sources for some hummingbirds zooming about. Molly had heard the area referred to unofficially as Quail Meadows. We saw no quail but did get a good look at a western kingbird, chipping sparrow, and sharp-shinned hawk. Perhaps “bird meadows” might be a better name.

John photographing knobcone pine cones. He also recorded the location on his GPS as this is a rare species in Lane County.

Molly had also heard there were knobcone pines in the area. It didn’t take us long to find a couple of spots, each with several handsome trees. These are rare up here at the northern end of their range, but the drier climate of this part of the county is closer to what they are used to in the southwestern corner of the state. They require forest fires to open their cones and release the seeds. We could see right across Road 21 to the devastation of the Tumblebug Fire that raged in 2009. It’s a good bet that more knobcone pines will appear over there in the coming years.

We continued west and up, following whatever seemed the easiest route to higher parts of the meadows. As we climbed, we found more interesting plants and perhaps fewer weeds. Many still in their early stages were hard to identify, but I was quite sure about two uncommon plants: threadleaf phacelia (Phacelia linearis) and snapdragon skullcap (Scutellaria antirrhinoides). There were some monkeyflowers in bloom, along with Lomatium hallii, a small popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys sp.) and the adorable Claytonia rubra and C. exigua ssp. glauca.

Probably an odd form of fragile fern (Cystopteris fragilis)

Finally, we entered what appeared to be the highest opening, passing through an attractive stand of still-bare oaks. This one was quite rocky and far more interesting than the lower meadows. We were keeping an eye on the time, and the weather was also deteriorating, but we had to at least take a short look around. I was a little surprised to see rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) perched on some of the rocks. This is abundant on the east side of the Cascades, where Molly used to work but is only found in hot dry sites here on the west side. The first buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) also appeared up here. Some harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) was coming into bloom. Tucked in the rocks here were many Indian dream fern (Aspidotis densa) and the first lace fern (Cheilanthes gracillima), but I was fascinated by a very unusual small fern. My best guess is that it is an interesting form of fragile fern. The Victorians were famous for collecting and propagating bizarre forms of ferns. This was too small and scrunched up to be of much interest to a gardener, however. Time to go, but we are already planning another return trip to explore as many of the rest of the meadows as we can reach and see what plants will be blooming later this month. Looking now at my photograph of it from a distance, it is clear we saw only a glimpse of this neat meadow complex.

3 Responses to “Knobcone Pines on Bear Mountain Meadows”

  • Sabine:

    You have become such an interesting authoress. I just love reading your writings, especially the wry humor. You pack so much info into very precise sentances.

  • Tyler c Ryan:

    Hello, I’ve been hunting for some beautiful knobcones to photograph. I followed some maps where they were in hills creak but didn’t find any. I know it’s been years but do you know how I could find these groves that you found? I would extremely appreciate the help.

  • Tyler:

    Hello, I’m a photographer looking to photograph some knobcone pine trees. I went out looking in hills creek today and spent all day looking with no payoff. I was wondering if you could help me find the spots you found. I know this was years and years ago but any help would be much appreciated. You stated on one of your pictures that your friend even marked it on his GPS. Thank you very much.

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